As a benefit of my attendance at the Skeptic’s conference last may, I have been receiving copies of their flagship magazine. The magazine has begun to entertain the views of theists that work in the sciences. The dialog is generally pretty counterproductive, with the participants often talking past each other. Motivated by the debate between Dave Matson and Douglas Navarick (Debating the “God” Construct) in Vol. 20 No. 4, I address the issues of abiogenesis (the origin of cellular life) and the distinction between “supernatural” phenomena and those such as spirituality that lack an explanation.
You’ll find another response to Navarick’s original article here.
As a scientist who believes that the soul is a part of the physical construction of this reality, I am dismayed by the tone of your response to Douglas Navarick.
“Supernatural” is a tendentious term
The scientist loves to ask “Why?”, and comes up with theories that propose explanatory relationships. In propagating those abstractions, an elite cognoscenti is created. As this elite solidifies its political power, funding of scientific research tends to crowd out radical ideas (I refer you to Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).
So the researchers at CERN focus on the discovery of the “Higgs boson” (which looks nothing like the Higgs boson I studied in graduate school), despite the fact that the Higgs mechanism actually doesn’t explain particle masses – you still need to generate the coupling constants that determine the mass of each individual particle. The “Higgs boson”, however, has been built up as an accomplishment worthy of pursuit, and so is trumpeted as a Nobel-worthy achievement even though – with the exception of charge – no property of the simplest composites (the mesons and nucleons) can be calculated from the standard model of the fundamental forces – even given the measured properties of the quarks. Thus we have a situation in which the obvious failures of current theory are ignored to the purpose of sustaining funding for large-scale research programs with many stakeholders outside of the sciences.
Following Kuhn, I would argue that fundamental physics is ripe for a revolution. The issues as I see them are outlined here. Conceptually, it would seem that if one posited structure inside the current collection of “fundamental” particles, it actually wouldn’t be too hard to make room for the soul. I also have a far simpler picture of this reality, without the unobservable (and highly unstable) Planck-scale plasma and alternate universes. (The multiverse theory, BTW, being obviously another version of your magical hare-brained Easter Bunny.)
So rather than “supernatural”, I would prefer a term that suggested “beyond the things that scientists can yet explain.” “Spirituality” may fit. I would hope that you would admit that scientists, with their emphasis on material experience, may self-select from among those that are spiritually insensitive. As one not so insensitive, often marveling at the healing power of love, I find that “hare-brained Easter Bunny” provides no explanatory leverage. There is something to life beyond what particle physics can yet explain. I’d like to have a rational dialog on the topic.
Of course, if I am right, everyone will be confronted with the need to rethink the record of scripture that has been brought forward from many cultures. Clawing back the sarcasm is going to take a great deal of courage, I recognize, but no less than surrendering the comfort of dogmatism on the other side.
This really isn’t that hard a problem. Assume that the oceans contain distributed pools of heavy hydrocarbons in contact with various sources of heat and minerals on the ocean floor. The hydrocarbon pools will develop a skin of polarized molecules (maybe even phospholipids, as phosphor is not rare). Other fundamental components of life (nucleic acids, amino acids, etc.) may also be sourced from the complex chemistry of the pool, which could support (as we know) selective exchange of materials with the water. Agitation of the pool (through earthquakes, overflow, or venting) will result in formation of protocells. These events will produce innumerable trials, liberated into sub-sea currents. Eventually among those trials will be cells that can scavenge materials for growth from the environment. Voila! Life.
Pools lying on different mineral strata will form protocells with different morphologies. Those with compatible membranes could merge, producing further biochemical trials. Which is what we actually know happened – cells are composed of organelles that were protocells in their own right before being absorbed.
BTW – there’s an IMAX on life around thermal vents in which the pilots of the deep sea vehicle actually interact with such a hydrocarbon pool.